The Learning Curve

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 13 2011


This weekend was a (much needed) three day weekend, although by the time Sunday rolls around, the feeling is still the same: Do I have to go back to work? Really?

I can’t say if it’s getting harder or easier. Honestly, it feels stagnant in a part of life that’s just enough this side of “bearable” and “obligatory” to keep me coming back. It’s not the actual teaching that makes me feel this way, although I’m not great at that aspect, either.

It’s that I work in a place where I am beginning to know the police officers who routinely pick up a student or three by name. It’s that my building has seven bulletin boards and three of them were ripped off the walls (same child) a couple of weeks ago and have yet to be replaced, so they just lean against the wall and get more and more battered with each passing period. It’s that two fourth graders were arrested on Thursday and my initial thought was, “That’s not surprising.” [I am not going to go into further detail about that incident. It's just too much.]

I just look forward to Thanksgiving Break, which begins at the end of the school day this Friday (thank God) and will hopefully give me the energy I need post-break to make it to Winter Break and home. My reality is so skewed that my day is just a collection of caffeinated drinks, paper stacks, police cars and showers. So many times I’ve driven to school or back in such a daze that I don’t realize it until I’m unlocking my door.

There are certainly kids who make it worth it. The dance team makes me happy, and I’ve gotten to know some of the secondary school kids in a way that gives me hope. One of my own students, who drives me bananas on a regular basis with her diva-like temper tantrums, drew me a picture that said “I love you!” on Thursday. I took it, like I take them all, and said “Thank you,” although I must admit, internally I was rolling my eyes. As if she could tell, she poked me in the side, leaned over and whispered “I really do, you know.” It gave me a cautious hope for her and I, perpetually caught in this battle of the strongest will. There’s another girl, one of my favorite SPED students, who used to consistently cheat on her multiplication tables (her grandmother wrote out charts for her at the beginning of the year and she just copies them), has since learned her 0s and 1s and is well on her way to learning her 11s, and on our last timed drills had one of the best complete/correct ratios in the whole class. I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her while singing an impromptu “you are the best” song to her and she wouldn’t stop giggling for the rest of the day. There’s the 4th grader from the classroom next door who proudly showed me his report card from first quarter and asks to help me with my class all the time. And of course, hugs as I greet students on their way to our morning meeting are surely a feeling without competition. I just wish that I could readily access those, at least mentally, when one of my students has his once daily breakdown and throws a chair at another student, or when another will not. stop. harassing the female students no matter how many times he is moved, written up or given a detention. It’s hard to know what’s real when this is the day-to-day.

I need an “It Gets Better” campaign for teachers, but I’m not sure if I had one I’d believe it. It’s hard to see my kids get shafted every day by a bunch of useless people (I am often one) and have any hope at all for them. Thank God the resilience of an adolescent has nothing to do with me and my ability. These kids have seen enough injustice for a lifetime.

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